Reviews & Comments

A warm story indeed. In a pleasant narrative based upon the author’s two years of active duty as an Army JAG in the early 
years of the Cold War, he takes us through his experiences reviving both the profound danger of that age coupled with his
own innocence and youth. What is so striking to the reader is the degree of detail that the author provides about his
experiences, which are, by now, fifty years old. Many of the stories, such as learning the ropes from salty senior enlisted men
and from senior officers, will be familiar to all new officers.

Yet the tale is about much more than then-First Lieutenant Thomason’s time in the Army. The book is a glimpse into a
different era and what it was like to be on the "front lines" of the Cold War.


The Military Advocate,

Judge Advocates Association Publication                                                      

It is a story worth telling and worth reading....

The book is also a snapshot of a unique and interesting moment in American history, the Cold War as played out on the
stage of Germany in the decade after World War II.

If you, like John, are a member of the "Greatest Generation" you will enjoy his memoir of a young lawyer during the Cold
War....In short, Lieutenant, Your Cap's On Backward! is a story that will resonate even now that the Cold War is over and
a new war has begun.



Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution, adopted in 1787, provides in part "The Congress shall have power … to raise and support Armies … To provide and maintain a Navy … and to make Rules for the Government and Regulation of the land and naval forces". Article II, Section 2 provides in part that "The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states when called into the actual service of the United States".

In 1775, even before the constitution was ratified, the Continental Congress -- in large measure copying the Army Act of England -- had adopted what were called the Articles of War and the Articles for the Government of the Navy which remained in effect and essentially unchanged for 175 years, until 1951. The Navy maintained that it was different from the Army and required different rules. After all, the Army could punish a soldier by restricting him to the geographical limits of the Army camp. That didn’t work in the Navy. When at sea, like it or not, everybody was restricted to the ship. In addition, the necessary and absolute power of the ship’s captain was more important to the successful operation of the Navy than a system that guaranteed justice. However, the dual system was discarded and many other changes effected when the new law was enacted. What brought about the changes was World War II.

The U.S. had a tiny professional army prior to the beginning of the Second World War, less than 200,000 men. By the time the war was over, twelve million citizen soldiers and sailors were called to active duty. Of that number, more than two million were the subject of some form of court-martial.

Let me hasten to explain that not all Courts-Martial are the same. There are three grades: going from the lowest to the highest insofar as the seriousness of the crimes they considered and the severity of punishment that could be imposed they were designated Summary, Special and General.

American citizen soldiers and sailors were not accustomed to what was called "Military Justice"; a term some said was an oxymoron, like "Jumbo Shrimp". These conscripts and sometimes reluctant volunteers were also introduced to the concept of "Command Influence" -- unlawful interference with the justice system by higher-ranking officers, frequently leaving soldiers and sailors to be punished at the commander’s whimsy. The problem is that armies are organized to efficiently fight battles and win wars. Their primary concern is not to administer justice. As a result there are inherent conflicts.

For example, if a soldier refuses to fight he might well be happy to be court-martialed and sent to a prison in the rear. Many might follow his example, resulting in an undermanned and ineffective army. Combat commanders must have the power to require obedience to orders. Americans, however, are accustomed to constitutional rights and procedural due process. Few were aware of the fine print in the Fifth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution, which reads, "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger…".

American politicians heard a huge outcry after WW II for the 175-year-old system of military justice to be changed. Congress finally acted in 1950, effecting sweeping reforms and bringing all the military services under one set of rules which went into effect in 1951, one year before I became an Army lawyer.

Lieutenant, Your Cap's on Backward

Insignia of the U. S.Army

Judge Advocate General's Corps

Stuttgart, Germany, 1953

Headquarters VII Corps

Officer of the day

World War II ended in Europe in June 1945, and in Japan the following August. A few American generals, including Generals Patton and Le May, thought that sooner or later we would necessarily confront communist Russia. They recommended that we should continue advancing to the east until we subdued our Russian adversaries, utilizing the atomic bomb, if necessary, while it was in our exclusive possession. However, the overwhelming opinion was that we should demobilize, and we did. Within months the draft was ended and our military forces shrank to half a million. Then in 1950 North Korea attacked its neighbor to the south and we were once again at war. The draft was reinstated and the U. S. military force quickly expanded to a million and a half. Although my draft board deferred my involuntary induction so long as I made passing grades in law school, when I graduated I needed to get a commission or be drafted. Luckily, I found a place in the Army Judge Advocate General’s Corps and was one of five in my class of 120 to be ordered to Europe.

I crossed the Atlantic by troop ship and arrived in Germany in March 1953; the same week Josef Stalin died. At that time the Cold War was almost a hot war. Germany had not yet regained its sovereignty; I was a member of the Army of Occupation. World War II had ended just eight years before and the cities of Germany were still a wasteland of ruins and rubble.

I think my experience in the JAG Corps of the Army in Germany from 1953 to 1955 was unique. We were the first ones to conduct trials under the new Uniform Code of Military Justice and I participated in 168 of them, about equally divided between acting as prosecutor and defense counsel. My adventures as an Army lawyer in Europe have been collected and published in a book, which I have titled "Lieutenant, Your Cap’s on Backward!"

John J. Thomason